The same unmanned drones that the CIA and the American military uses to kill terrorists in Pakistan and gather intelligence on militants in Afghanistan are being deployed by local cops to spy on US citizens at home.
US Customs and Border Protection agents fly eight Predator remote-controlled aircraft to patrol the American borders with Canada and Mexico, searching for smugglers and illegal immigrants.
But increasingly, the federal government and local police agencies are using those drones to spy criminal suspects in America with sophisticated high-resolution cameras, heat sensors and radar. All of it comes without a warrant.
A spy plane comes home: Privacy advocates fear the use of Predator drones on US citizens gives police agencies too much power
Allowing local sheriffs and police chiefs access to spy planes happened without public discussion or the approval of Congress. And it has privacy advocates crying foul, saying the unregulated use of the drones is intrusive.
'There is no question that this could become something that people will regret,' former Rep Jane Harman, a Democrat, told the Los Angles Times.
One of the only confirmed uses of predator drones by local law enforcement came in June when a sheriff near Grand Forks, North Dakota, went looking for six stolen cattle.
When he arrived at the farm of Rodney Brossart, he was threatened by three men with guns and forced to retreat.
The Brossarts were known for being armed, anti-government separatists. So Sheriff Kelly Janke, who patrols a county of just 3,000 people, called in a Predator drone to look out over the 3,000-acre farm where the family was armed with rifles and shotguns.
Arrested: Rodney Brossart was arrested at his home in North Dakota after a sheriff used a Predator drone to spy on his family's 3,000-acre farm
With the help of a drone, summoned from nearby Grand Forks Air Force Base where it was patrolling the US-Candida border, the sheriff was able to watch the movements of everyone on the farm from a handheld device that picked up the aircraft's video footage.
He and his deputies waited until they could see the Brossarts put down their weapons. Then they stormed the compound and arrested Rodney Brossart, his daughter and his three sons on a total of 11 felony charges. No shots were fired.
And he recovered the cattle, valued at $6,000.
The sheriff says that might not have been possible without the intelligence from the Predators.
'We don't have to go in guns blazing. We can take our time and methodically plan out what our approach should be,' Sheriff Janke told the Times.
All of the surveillance occurred without a search warrant because the Supreme Court has long ruled that anything visible from the air, even if it's on private property, can be subject to police spying.
However, privacy experts say that predator drones, which can silently fly for 20 hours nonstop, dramatically surpasses the spying power that any police helicopter or airplane can achieve.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Local cops using Predator drones to spy on Americans in their own backyards | Mail Online